Belfast Telegraph

Artist shocked by row over hunger strike exhibit

By Eoghan MacConnell

A row over an artwork based on H-Block hunger strikers' messages is to be referred to a gallery's board of management.

Fine Gael councillor Mark Cooney had tabled a motion at an Athlone Town Council meeting seeking that the work be removed from the Luan Gallery, describing it as "offensive".

The view is shared by his father Paddy Cooney, who served as Minister for Justice in the 1970s.

Scores of protesters attended the council meeting where the motion was up for debate last night.

However, independent councillor Sheila Buckley Byrne's counter proposal to send the motion to the gallery's board of management in order that they might respond was accepted following a vote. They are expected to discuss it at a meeting next Tuesday.

The artwork, 'Fragmens sur les Institutions Républicaines IV', is based on a collection of prisoners' messages smuggled out of the H-Block prison in 1981.

Those gathered in the packed public gallery last night included the creator of the contentious piece, artist Shane Cullen, and the son of a murdered Defence Forces member, David Kelly.

Speaking after the meeting, Mr Cullen said the piece had travelled the world and there was no question of censorship in Northern Ireland, Paris or the US. "I am a bit shocked. The reason I came was to show my solidarity and my support for the gallery staff."

Mr Kelly, a Westmeath native whose father Pte Patrick Kelly was killed by the IRA at Derrada Woods in Co Leitrim in 1983, came out to support the motion as he was "very disturbed" by the work.

"I viewed the piece myself and I find it deeply offensive. It basically glorifies terrorism that resulted in the deaths of army men including my father and members of the gardai and many innocent women and children," he said.

Athlone Art and Heritage Ltd, a company established and owned by the town council in order to manage local art facilities, runs the contemporary Luan Gallery which was opened by minister Jimmy Deenihan in November.

The gallery has experienced a sizeable increase in visitor numbers since the controversy arose. Of 1,200 visitors, just three have lodged objections.

Cllr Cooney's motion congratulated Athlone Art & Heritage on the successful opening of the gallery but requested that the exhibit be removed.

Belfast Telegraph


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